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James Comey and Reinhold Niebuhr

James Comey and Reinhold Niebuhr

Christianity Today wonders if FBI Director James Comey’s undergraduate studies and thesis on Reinhold Niebuhr reveals something of the reasons behind his thoughts and actions:

How did this particular theologian become so many politicians’ moral and spiritual compass? Niebuhr developed a view known as Christian realism, believing the human ego would undercut our attempts to better the world. According to Niebuhr, people need to shed their self-righteous illusions and perfectionist pretensions to set their sights on more modest solutions. Niebuhr warned that people should never assume they could eliminate evil. In fact, they should be on guard lest their moral ambitions lead them into a self-deluded and destructive pride.

…the theologian’s influence potentially sheds light on yet another side of Comey’s conduct as well. For a student of Niebuhr, justice is about using power to balance the power of those not predisposed to recognize any limits on their self-interest. Perhaps this helps to explain why Comey felt he had to criticize Clinton even though he found no reason to pursue a legal case against her. At that time she seemed to be on her way to becoming the most powerful person in the world, and her email troubles suggested someone who did not sufficiently respect limits.

Though there is no way to know what was going through his mind, one wonders whether Niebuhr’s influence was also at work during Comey’s fateful dinner with Trump. This time, if the reports are true, he faced his own moral predicament, asked by the most powerful person in the world to violate what Niebuhr regarded as the core obligation to do justly. Perhaps some day we will find out how Comey viewed his experience in the king’s court.

Read it all here.

 

Images from Wikimedia Commons

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